After eight years in office Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has been denied a third term. Despite combining voter-friendly economic policies with a liberal attitude to social issues, his Liberal Party slid to third place in the polls after voting in the general election: “The electorate has voted for a change”, he admitted to reporters.
The far-right Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang gained ground but experts say the party is likely to be ostracized by their mainstream counterparts.
In Wallonia, the Reform Movement, the French- speaking partners of Verhofstadt’s Liberals, made gains as a result of a poor showing by the Socialists. Party leader Didier Reynders says their time has come: “The centre of gravity in the French community has been re-positioned today. My friends in Brussels and across Wallonia, the centre of political decision- making no longer lies with the Socialists.”
Elio Di Rupo and his Socialist party lost ground due to a number of embezzlement scandals involving socialist town halls in the French-speaking south.
Traditionally, the Prime Minister comes from one of the majority parties. But with a splintered vote, several outcomes are possible. Up to ten parties or coalitions are in the running.
The Flemish and francophone green parties made strong gains and are likely to be included in any future administration. In a country governed by compromise, putting together a ruling coalition could take up to three months. Voting in Belgium is compulsory, but the electorate showed little enthusiasm. Many describe the party list system and coalition negotiations as too complex.